There were quite a few players who exploded for big performances on Friday, but Obi Toppin deserves the fantasy star of the night award the most, for a career-high 35 points on 6-9 three-point shooting. Toppin has scored 19 or more in his last four games starting and looks like he is getting more comfortable in the NBA with every minute he plays. This stretch of starts was a possible look into the future if Julius Randle is traded or if Toppin manages to get more minutes next to Randle next year. Obi will remain as an interesting stash in dynasty leagues with an undetermined role moving into next year. Immanuel Quickley ended the night with 23 points, 10 assists, and six rebounds as he saw more minutes than usual with RJ Barrett leaving the game with a knee injury. Quickley continues to show upside in all facets of the game and is leaving the Knicks with a difficult decision on what to do at the point guard position next year. His role has a lot to do with what the Knicks do in the offseason.

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Change. Is good, although it takes time for it to manifest. There are trials and tribulations. There are new things to learn and old things to forget. There will be haters. There will always be haters. But change is vital to reach one’s potential. A caterpiller walks and eats before wrapping itself in a cocoon, then morphs into a butterfly and eventually flies into the sky. Pascal Siakam entered the league in 2016 and embarked upon the journey that all rookies undertake. He flashed his two-way potential early on and continued to climb the ladder. In 2019, after Kawhi Leonard left, he was thrust into a more prominent role and became an All-Star. While the numbers were there, there was some hesitancy. Fred VanVleet put it best: “I think what happened was Kyle [Lowry] was such an immovable object, such a force of who he was in his status as a Hall of Famer, it was like a little tit-for-tat there, even if it was subconscioius….It’s not something where’ I don’t like this guy’ or ‘I’m not passing to him’, it’s a little nuance that you would never understand unless you played at the highest level.” Lowry was traded before the beginning of the 2021-22 season and things became more clear and comfortable for Siakam. He missed the first 10 games of the season but it’s been alllll good this season and last night was the culmination of the season.

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The Charlotte Hornets defeated the Brooklyn Nets 119-110 to remain ahead of the Nets in the Eastern Conference standings. The two teams have identical 39-36 records, but with this win, the Hornets move to 2-1 against the Nets and secure the tiebreaker. Led by LaMelo Ball’s hot shooting, the Hornets spoiled Kyrie Irving’s home debut. Ball finished the game with 33 points (10-21 FG, 7-12 3PT), seven rebounds, nine assists, and three steals. Miles Bridges added 24 points (9-24 FG, 3-6 3PT), eight rebounds, two assists, and one steal. P.J. Washington tallied 18 points (8-12 FG, 2-3 3PT), 11 rebounds, and five assists. Terry Rozier notched 14 points (5-12 FG, 2-5 3PT), seven rebounds, four assists, and one steal. If the Hornets are making their threes they can be tough to beat and that was the case in this game. They shot 42% from the field as a team, but they shot 53% from three (17-32). As things currently stand, the Hornets would match up against the Cleveland Cavaliers in the play-in tournament, rather than the Nets. That’s unfortunate for us, the fans, as the pace of play and lack of defense on both sides would make a Nets vs. Hornets matchup must-see TV. Then again, there likely won’t be much defense in a Nets vs. Hawks series either.

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I get why Trae Young vs New York is a thing. I too remember last year’s gentleman’s sweep in the first round, and I understand that any time the Knicks do anything it gets an unreasonable amount of attention because New York, the media, Stephen A., etc. I also know that America is the land of large appetites, so even though the NBA in late March can be a real grind, content must still be pumped into the great yawning maw. Trae turning heel in MSG is cheap heat and the Knicks are highly flammable. Ring the dinner bell, friends. It’s time to eat again.

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The Indiana Pacers defeated the Portland Trail Blazers 129-98. In a rarity for this version of the Pacers, they were the more veteran team. Oshae Brissett spearheaded the Pacers’ attack, as he tallied 24 points (8-10 FG, 2-3 3PT), nine rebounds, one assist, and one steal. His day also included a highlight reveal reverse dunk in transition which came off a behind-the-back pass from Lance Stephenson. Have I mentioned that the Pacers are fun now!? Justin Anderson added 18 points, six rebounds, four assists, and one steal. Jalen Smith notched 17 points, five rebounds, and one block in just 17 minutes of play. I’m not sure if Smith will ever become the player the Suns hoped they were getting when he was drafted with the 10th pick in 2020, but he has at least grown into an intriguing prospect. He was 2-of-3 from behind the arc and also whipped out a Dirk-esque step-back off the dribble in the midrange. Terry Taylor (17) and Duane Washington Jr. (13) both had solid games as well. The Pacers led wire to wire and the lack of competitiveness of the game is reflected in the lower minute totals for Tyrese Haliburton and Buddy Hield. Haliburton finished the game with 10 points, four rebounds, and seven assists. Hield tallied nine points, three rebounds, two assists, and two steals. Finally, Lance Stephenson scored just two points, but grabbed six rebounds, dished out 11 assists, and swiped three steals.

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The Nets defeated their in-state rival Knicks 110-107, behind a statement performance from Kevin Durant, who finished the game with 53 points (19-37 FG, 4-13 3PT), six rebounds, nine assists, and two steals. The 53 points were a season-high and just a point shy of his career-high. Andre Drummond added 18 points, 10 rebounds, and one block on a perfect eight for eight from the field. Bruce Brown, whose value and strong play has grown consistent of late, finished the game with 15 points (7-14 FG, 0-1 3PT), seven rebounds, five assists, and two steals. Nic Claxton contributed off the bench, compiling 10 points, five rebounds, one assist, two steals, and one block. Seth Curry was a late scratch due to an ankle injury. The Nets have now won three in a row after losing four in a row.  During this winning streak, Durant has reminded everyone in the league and everyone watching at home just how dominant he can be. The spiciest and most hilarious result of a late-season Nets winning streak would be a 76ers vs. Nets first-round matchup—one can only hope!

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There was no doubt in this Friday’s fantasy star of the night as LeBron James scored 50 points in a must-win game as the Lakers try their best to stay afloat in this season. James has been a top-five category player this year and will look to continue his hot streak to close out the fantasy season. Malik Monk added 21 points on 5-7 three-point shooting while battling early foul trouble last night. Monk will continue to operate as the second scoring option until Anthony Davis returns from injury. 

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That song always gets me amped for some reason. I went to school out in New York and lived/worked out there for many years, so I used to hear that song all the time. Didn’t matter what borough I’d walk through. There would always be a Puerto Rican blasting that while cruising in his ride. Ok, maybe not in Manhattan but everywhere else! As that song brought back nostalgic vibes, so did the return of one Victor Oladipo. Oladipo Ho! Oladipo Ho! Oladipo Ho! He last played in April of 2021 and finally made his season debut on Monday.

PTS REB AST STL BLK TOV 3PT FG FT
11 1 4 0 0 1 2/3 4/7 1/2

Only played 15 minutes as that was the cap mentioned before the game. He wasn’t as explosive as before, but the shot looked smooth, he was navigating pick and roll action, and he was able to get by defenders and finish at the rim. Back in 2017, he finished as the 11th overall player on a per-game basis! He averaged 34 minutes, 23.1 points, 2.1 tres, 5.2 boards, 4.3 dimes, 2.4 steals, and 0.8 blocks while shooting 47% from the field and 79% from the line. Dayam! He’s obviously not going to replicate that this season but he could eventually play around 20 minutes and be a contributor. Man, this Heat team could be scary. I actually put them at #1 in a power rankings I did a few weeks ago. The team is already top 10 in both offensive and defensive efficiency. If Oladipo can get healthy and be a significant contributor, the Heat get that much scarier because he’s another plus defender who can get his own shot on the offensive end.

Here’s what else I saw last night:

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The Suns capped off a wild game with Cam Johnson hitting a buzzer-beater three-pointer to finish off a career night. Johnson comes in as the fantasy star of the night after scoring 38 points on 9-12 three-point shooting. Cam Payne provided the game-winning assist and was a major catalyst for the offense all night. Payne finished with 17 points and a career-high 16 assists. He should continue to play a large playmaking role with Chris Paul out and he will dominate the ball until Devin Booker returns from the league’s health and safety protocols.

It was another brutal loss for the New York Knicks behind a third-quarter ejection by Julius Randle. Before the ejection, Randle was having a stellar game, scoring 25 points in 28 minutes. Randle’s ejection was followed by a Sun’s run that led to a 34-21 fourth quarter. The tough loss cannot overshadow one of the better games of Mitchell Robinson’s career as he finished with 17 points, 15 rebounds, four steals, and three blocks, dominating DeAndre Ayton on both sides of the ball.

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Why isn’t Montrezl Harrell starting for the Hornets? Just because he won 6th Man of the Year doesn’t mean he’s permanently a sixth man. Especially when you play Mason Plumlee over him. In every single game, Harrell has outplayed Plumlee, so why is he still starting? Only other thing to comment on is Isaiah Thomas receiving another 10 day contract, putting up 10 points, five rebounds, and three assists. We’ll see how he fits, and if his contract is guaranteed for the rest of the year, but personally I doubt it. As for the Cavaliers, Daruis Garland was the only one to show up offensively, putting up 33 points on 60% shooting.

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The fantasy star of the night rarely comes from a losing team, but RJ Barrett fully deserves it. After missing the last four games before the All-Star Break with an ankle injury, Barrett returned on Friday night to provide the best game of his career. He finished with 46 points and nine rebounds on 6-11 three-point shooting. He has been on a tear over his last 20 games and appears to be taking a leap forward as a player. He has been a huge disappointment for category players this year because of his shooting numbers and consistency but will look to finish strong in the remaining weeks of the fantasy season. Julius Randle added 11 points, eight rebounds, and eight assists in the loss. He struggled shooting the ball but was still a focal point of the offense. He should see a large facilitating role with Kemba Walker out of the rotation and with Derrick Rose set to have a cleanup surgery on his previously injured right ankle. 

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So we’ve arrived at the final nightly recap before the All-Star break. A time when team rosters are locked in, new trade pieces are already paying dividends, and teams generally know what they are. So let’s look at the 22 teams that played last night and evaluate where there at, where they could improve, and who stood out from a fantasy perspective. 

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